One thing leads to another. Or so the old saying goes. Your grandpa might have told you that when you were small, and maybe then you weren’t entirely sure of it’s meaning. Maybe you still aren’t, we’re not here to judge, but one thing can be agreed upon and that is that grandpas tend to be pretty wise. How many times have we started out with the intent to do one thing, and ended up doing something entirely different? Plenty of times. Just this morning I walked into my kitchen to get a notepad and walked out eating a fudge pop. Go figure. But we absorb our experiences and they become part of who we’ve become. So, no matter how different our doings are in the present, things we did in the past continue to influence our decisions and outcomes. I saw this concept come into play in a most real way the day I got to visit and speak to artist Celia Greiner at her shop, Celia Greiner Woodworking.
“I started out a painter,” Celia tells. “I studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I began to notice that in my work I was seeking ways to make my paintings more dimensional. I was very interested in perspective, but not just rendered perspective. I wanted to build my paintings and create actual 3-D. So I started painting on Masonite; making built paintings.
“But then I began to run out of ideas, and also I had become disillusioned by the art world. So I decided to learn woodworking so that I could make functional objects. After dabbling at it, I realized that in order to make furniture, I’d have to do it full time. So I attended the Worcester Center for Crafts for two years and began making furniture and sculpting with wood.”
Celia’s artistic bent is certainly expressed in her furniture designs: chairs with curvilinear detailing, waved benches, a table reminiscent of clover, roots and all. “Furniture must be touchable. How it feels in your hand is the most important thing. I find purely rectangular pieces kind of boring and easy to reproduce. Rounded edges feel good and draw the hand.”
Celia credits her dad as having helped influence her aesthetic by exposing her to nature at an early age. “I’m definitely inspired by nature. As a kid, my dad would point out plants and creatures. He’d always refer to the beauty and efficient design found in nature. A creature has only the parts it needs. You look at things and you absorb them, and later they come out. I’ve done some rectangular commissions, but when left to my own devices, I naturally go more organic and sculptural.”
Sometimes there is a fine line between being a craftsperson and being an artist. Celia plants herself firmly on the artist side of that continuum. She’s created some pretty far out furniture pieces, such as the Siren Chair, a red-tipped, tentacled, fantasy piece which is in a private home now. “I’ve toned down some of the elaborate shapes in my furniture pieces,” she chuckles. “Now I prefer to reserve those kinds of forms for my sculpture.”
Unlike her furniture, which is all about the tactile, Celia’s sculpture is created mainly for visual impact, with texture as a no less important part of the formula. “I like to juxtapose the smooth with the rough. One emphasizes the other. Normally you don’t touch sculpture, so you’re forced to imagine the feel of it. That gives it some life.”
As much as I loved Celia’s furniture, I found myself, and my camera, drawn to her sculpture. I kept returning to one piece in particular, called Icky. It’s a floor piece, crafted from stained poplar with steel wire, and it’s beautiful . . . and repulsive. “I’m interested in exploring why we are drawn to somethings and flee from others. Why are we attracted to something that has a smooth texture, and repulsed by yuckiness? What if both elements were present in the same piece? You kind of find that in Icky.”
“I’m a sculptor who makes furniture. I’ve been commissioned to design some pieces in more of an Arts and Craft style. Lots of straight lines and rectangular forms. But while in school I found that you can make so many shapes with wood. So I’m always trying to get away from rectangular forms, and move towards the shapely.”
Celia designs first, then picks her woods: poplar for flexibility, ash for graininess, she also experiments with cork and other materials. All of her wood comes from the urban forest, a sustainable resource. Notably, she uses water-based, low VOC, eco-friendly finishes in keeping with her personal philosophy of producing high-quality, hand-crafted pieces as an alternative to the things that can be found in malls and factory outlets.
“I’d like to see shopping become less of a past-time. Shop when you need it. Buy good-quality, well made things that will last a long time. I’m all for the handmade movement. I appreciate people who put a lot of thought into what they do. Buying handmade helps you to get to know the maker and respect them through their work.”
Celia’s personal design philosophy is one that all of us could take and apply to anything going on in our lives. Whether you’re painting, sculpting, crafting, or trying to get your big break on Broadway. “Be honest with yourself. Simplify. Be concise. And don’t be afraid to show some personality.”
Celia Greiner Woodworking, BY APPOINTMENT: 3039 West Carroll, Chicago, Illinois, 60612, USA.
On the web: http://www.celiagreiner.com